April 21, 2005

American politics and the pope.

I wasn't going to pope-blog, but this NYT article makes the new pope story all about American politics:
Pope Benedict XVI ascends to power at a tumultuous time for his church in American politics: Catholic voters, long overwhelmingly Democratic, have become a critical swing vote. Republicans have become increasingly successful at winning the support of more traditional Catholics by appealing to what President Bush calls the "culture of life" issues, including abortion, euthanasia and research on embryonic stem cells. Mr. Bush carried 56 percent of the white Catholic vote in 2004, up from 51 percent in 2000 - a formidable part of his conservative coalition.
This voting trend is longstanding and would have existed and continued even if John Paul had survived. But the point is that Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which backed American bishops who "have become more assertive in urging their congregations to vote in accord with Catholic teachings on those issues" and who have "chastis[ed] Catholic officials who disagree, in a few cases by threatening to deny them Communion." So there's a prediction that Catholic voter will keep feeling the need to vote based on "culture of life" values.

There is also an effect on candidates themselves. The article, written by Robin Toner, clearly seems to favor the John F. Kennedy approach to Catholicism and politics: "I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me." It worked for Kennedy (who had to battle anti-Catholic prejudice), but John Kerry had difficulty using the same move. He had difficulty for any number of reasons: he didn't need to overcome an initial aversion to a Catholic president, and he had to operate in a political field where personal moral questions have become central.

The gist of the article is that Benedict will energize American bishops to directly criticize Catholic candidates who don't adopt the complete set of orthodox Catholic beliefs, which will make it very hard on Democratic candidates. But there is no direct quote saying that. The closest of the many quotes is this one:
"I hate to pre-judge, but based on the record I would say Ratzinger is a very serious Catholic and he's going to say things like, 'Beware of falsehood in advertising,' " said Michael Novak, an expert on the Vatican at the American Enterprise Institute. "If you say you're a Catholic, be a Catholic."


Janet Rae Montgomery said...

The additional problem John Kerry had was with how he announced his Catholicism: "I was an altar boy". So what? Is there something about the faith or the beliefs of the Church that made a difference in your life, John? Is there some moral compass it gave you. I told my son (who thinks he might run for office and who is an altar server -- we have girls now too), NEVER say "I was an altar boy" as any short hand for what the Church brings to you. His response (with a typical 15-year-old's roll of the eyes): Yeah, I know. Too bad John didn't get it -- but then I don't think he is much of a Catholic.

Wade Garrett said...

Based on the record, Michael Novak believes the Pope is a serious Catholic? Based on the record, I would say that is a brilliant insight. Does he get paid to do this?

It frustrates me that Catholic bishops have no problem going to the media to criticize John Kerry and other Democrats for their pro-choice and pro-civil union views, but gladly look the other way when Republican Catholics support the Death Penalty, torture as an interrogation tactic, and the war in Iraq, all of which the last Pope firmly denounced. For that matter, when was the last time you saw a Catholic politician attempt to ban birth control?

I don't think the new Pope will have much of an effect on the way that people vote -- if you're pro-life, you probably already vote Republican, if you're pro-choice, you probably don't care who the Pope tells you note to vote for. Until Republican Catholics start introducing bills banning birth control pills and the death penalty, I am going to regard all of the Catholic church's political recommendations as hypocritical and easily ignorable.

It is worth noting that, John Kerry aside, the Republican party has far more prominent, socially liberal Catholics than the Democratic party. George Pataki and Rudy Guiliani come immediately to mind; both are pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-gay marriage Catholics from my home state of New York, which many religious people in the U.S. view as a modern-day Gemorrah.

Rudy and Pataki are viewed as potential Presidential nominees in 2008, and as guys who can appeal to a lot of moderate Democrats. I, for instance, am a moderate, Catholic Democrat, and there are few people I'd rather see become President than Rudy Guiliani. However, if one of those two runs for president, they will have (or rather, they SHOULD have) a lot of explaining to do about their religious beliefs.

Greg Brown said...

One word: American ;)

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Greg. Don't know how many times I looked at that without seeing it. Corrected.

Knemon said...

"when was the last time you saw a Catholic politician attempt to ban birth control"

iirc, the Louisiana Senate race a few years back - with two female candidates - broke down thus on this issue:

The Democrat (who won) was pro-life.
The Republican was pro-life and *anti-contraception.*

That's Lousiana for you, I guess.
/apologies to Lians if I'm wrong.
The Republican was